BLM Whistleblower Reinstated In Nevada Grazing Dispute
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A longtime government range specialist who claimed he was fired in retaliation for repeatedly reporting illegal livestock grazing on federal land in eastern Nevada has been reinstated as part of a settlement of his whistleblower complaint against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
An administrative judge for the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board had scheduled a hearing to begin Monday in Oakland, California, on the complaint filed in May by Craig Hoover, who worked for the bureau for 21 years before he was terminated from his job in Ely near the Utah line.
A lawyer for the national watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility who represented Hoover in the case told The Associated Press the hearing won't take place because Hoover has been reinstated to a new position in the bureau's field office in Elko about 280 miles east of Reno.
Hoover said the bureau told him he was being terminated because he had caused a four-hour delay in locating a rancher's grazing permit and had lost his government identification badge for about five minutes in the Ely field office's breakroom.
Hoover said those claims were "substantially inaccurate."
"But even if they had been fully accurate they would be completely inadequate to justify the extreme penalty of my termination after 20 years' service to BLM," he wrote in his complaint.
The watchdog group based in suburban Washington D.C. said those were simply pretexts for his discharge, constituting illegal retaliation in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Peter Jenkins, PEER's senior counsel, said Hoover had a solid performance record and the bureau's action appeared to be a "clumsy" effort to "silence a squeaky wheel."
"In our more than 25-year history, we have never seen a termination based on flimsier grounds," he said. "PEER stands ready to defend public servants who seek to truly serve the public and protect our environment."
The Bureau of Land Management didn't immediately respond to a request late Friday for comment on Hoover's status.
Hoover said in his complaint to the board on May 28 that he had been fired in retaliation for filing an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint in 2018 after disclosing illegal grazing and other activities by the holder of a BLM grazing permit.
In addition to cattle trespass, he had reported earlier that the permittee had stolen fencing material belonging to the bureau. He said the agency took no enforcement action and instead fired the messenger.
Jenkins said Hoover's firing came as the agency appeared to have stopped enforcement against illegal grazing in Nevada and across the West in the aftermath of a standoff with the Bundy family over cattle trespassing in southern Nevada in 2014.
PEER said its 2017 survey of western BLM staff found 70% of BLM respondents felt the Bundy incidents had made their jobs "more dangerous" with large percentages citing "threats to our safety due to resource management issues."
"As Mr. Hoover's case illustrates, in today's BLM, range staff trying to do their jobs must cast a profile in courage," Jenkins said earlier this year. "As a consequence, America's rangelands are deliberately left unprotected by the public agency charged with their stewardship."